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8 Little Foxes that Spoil the Church’s Vines 3

posted by Scot McKnight

Fox.jpgIn their new book, Hidden Worldviews: Eight Cultural Stories That Shape Our Lives
, Steve Wilkens and Mark Sanford examine cultural scripts that work against the gospel work in the Church. Our theme today: nationalism.

The motto: My Nation, Under God.
Honest question: If Jesus were alive and living in the USA today would he be a patriotic American? Who has learned his or her lesson about the seductiveness of nationalism? How did you learn it?

Now Wilkens and Sanford are examining religious nationalism: the belief that the USA (any nation) is uniquely favored by God and an integral part of God’s plan.
Big one, I admit. Esp for a Friday. Still, we need to converse about this in a civil manner. The authors believe that patriotism — love of one’s country — is a good thing. Patriotism that loses perspective is an evil thing, so they say. Patriotism that loses perspective becomes nationalism. 
Where to begin?

Nations are artificial boundaries and are not eternal. Nations come into existence through power: economic, military and stability. Nations that become focused on these powers become nationalistic.
You may be a nationalist if…
1. You think God’s plan for the world would be severely hampered without the USA.
2. You think it unthinkable for a citizen to refuse to pledge allegiance or sing the anthem for religious reasons.
3. You think our Declaration of Independence or Constitution are eternal principles and never to be changed.
4. You think our nation would be better if we got back to the way things were.
Wow, but there are some good in national thinking: we are less individualists, less tribalists, nations help with the common good, and our national identity helps us understand ourselves.
But… we need to realize that our national measure has to be compared to the divine standard, not just against itself; the “other” is not a challenger to us but our neighbor; nationalism overreaches loyalty into idolatry; nationalism forgets the transnational nature of God’s church.


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Mick Porter

posted November 13, 2009 at 1:17 am


Scot, that is a “big one” as you say, but it needs to be addressed.
As someone from outside the USA (Australia), this looks quite different. Yes, we have our big push to buy Australian-made products etc., but the idea of the USA being some special kind of nation in God’s eyes looks very odd indeed to an outsider.
To answer your question, my mind cannot possibly conceive of Jesus living as a patriotic American.
It does seem that there’s a real tension between nationalism and individualism; it would seem though that the USA has managed to push the limits of both of these – why would this be? Perhaps the two are not in tension after all?



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Jeremy Berg

posted November 13, 2009 at 2:24 am


The Babel story seems to speak to the potential benefits and dangers of nationalism/tribablism. Stanley Hauerwas’ reflection on the Babel story is intriguing.
At Babel ?our forbearers used their creative gifts to live as if they need not acknowledge that their existence depends of gifts? (Hauerwas, Community of Character, 49). God?s scattering and confusing of their languages was meant to be a gift, according to Hauerwas. ?For by being so divided, by having to face the otherness created by separateness of language and place, people were given the resources necessary to recognize their status as creatures? (49). Instead of accepting this gift, people ?used their separateness as a club, hoping to force all peoples to speak their tribe?s language. Thus, at Babel war was born??
Sadly, some of my more patriotic friends just don’t see the bigger transnational purposes of the Abrahamic promises carried forward in Christ through their nationalistically colored lenses (cf. Gal. 3:28; Rev. 5:9).



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Jeremy Berg

posted November 13, 2009 at 2:35 am


PS: I first learned my lessons about the seductiveness of nationalism from Greg Boyd’s controversial “Cross and Sword” sermon series that led to the mass exodus of over 1,000 attenders of his church. Yoder and Hauerwas really messed with my views of Jesus and politics in graduate school, too. The anabaptist pull on this issue is quite strong.



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brambonius

posted November 13, 2009 at 4:02 am


there seems to be a lot of overlap with the Greg Boyd book…



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Peter

posted November 13, 2009 at 6:50 am


Living in a SE Asian nation for six years definitely helped me to recognize a nationalism in my heart/thinking that just could not be reconciled with the other things that I believe about the nature of the gospel, the kingdom and the body of Christ. On return home I was asked to cover the pulpit one Sunday on the Fourth of July weekend. As I stood in the pulpit and realized that the worship service was to include nationalistic music and singing, I found myself staring into the eyes of two friends in the balcony that were from the same SE Nation that I had just left. I knew that they had the mental capacity to interpret why this congregation sang songs like this, but what did it say to the non-Americans in the congregation about how we see ourselves and the rest of the body? Then I read Greg Boyd’s “Myth of a Christian Nation,” and I think that he spelled it out pretty well.



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RJS

posted November 13, 2009 at 7:06 am


You may be a nationalist if … you think flag burning is a deed worthy of conviction and jail.
(This one particularly gets to me in “Christian” discussion.)
– and added, beliefnet always tells me that “your comment is not lost” when I type the wrong text, but my comment is always (no exceptions) lost. A pain … if the system worked right it would help.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 13, 2009 at 7:18 am


RJS, that happens to me … and that Comment is not Lost line has never proven true.



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Jim

posted November 13, 2009 at 8:20 am


A friend of mine recently told me a story about how when he was the associate pastor of a large church that the senior pastor decided to have a patriotic Sunday. During worship a flag corp marched down the aisle and presented the colors.
At the appropriate moment the “pastors” were to turn toward the flag, put their hands on their hearts and lead the congregation in the pledge allegiance to the flag.
My friend told me that required, given the set up, that he had to turn his back to the baptistry and to the communion table. He did as he was told and is haunted by it to this day.
When he later complained about what had happened he was told he was making a big deal out of nothing but he wondered “if it was nothing, then why do it to begin with?”
On the surface, it seems like a little thing, a thoughtless moment on the part of the Sr. Pastor, nothing to take so seriously? But is it?
Another friend of mine suggests that if we are going to display the US flag in worship, we ought to pin it to the front of the communion table rather than put it over in the corner. If we are going to fly it, fly it…his tongue-in-cheek reasoning.
P.S. I always copy the text before I captcha it…



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Craig

posted November 13, 2009 at 8:24 am


If we believe that God loves everyone with equal passion, then, sooner or later we have to come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as “favored nation status” in the eyes of God. Even Israel’s position as an ancient people group was ultimately focused on one goal–to bring Christ to the world and the world to Christ. Indeed God wants to pour the blessings of Christ through every person determined to do His will.
I also have to admit being heavily influence by Gregory Boyd’s Myth of a Christian Nation. If Jesus refused to allow the short-term political issues of His day to deter Him from His long-term mission, we must follow His lead.
BTW, most of the people in my church think I am an absolute heretic on this. They sooooo want to believe the words America and Christian are synonymous.



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Bob Cornwall

posted November 13, 2009 at 8:35 am


A question we might ask — would there be more of an uproar if you removed the cross from the sanctuary or the American flag? I have a hunch that in many churches there would be more hue and cry over the latter.



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Bob Porter

posted November 13, 2009 at 9:22 am


Critical thinking requires? thinking? and not many people seem to have time for this.



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michael

posted November 13, 2009 at 9:22 am


As an Anabaptist, this belief has constantly set me in a different view-point than most Christians in America.
The irony of the “nationalist” Christians in our nation is that they are particularly nationalist now because of the actions of other “nationalist” Muslims around the world.



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Joe James

posted November 13, 2009 at 9:26 am


For me, when I discuss these issues (patriotism/nationalism) with my brothers and sisters in Christ, bringing up our theology of baptism serves as a healthy way to have good conversation. In Galatians, Paul seems to think that, when we are baptized, our allegiance and identity becomes tied up in another Kingdom. This Kingdom transcends all sorts of other identities that typically divide, conquer, or estrange people. In the Kingdom of God there is no Jew or Gentile, but all are one in Christ Jesus. I take that as a witness to the world. I don’t think it is a stretch at all to say that “in the Kingdom of God, there is no American or Iraqi, Israeli or Palestinian, Pakistani or Afghan, but all are one in Christ Jesus. (note here: this theology would have been healthy for Christians in America to have before so many of them haphazardly supported a pre-emptive war with Iraq… at the time America dropped those bombs, some 25% of Iraqis were Christians.)



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Larry

posted November 13, 2009 at 9:43 am


A question we might ask — would there be more of an uproar if you removed the cross from the sanctuary or the American flag? I have a hunch that in many churches there would be more hue and cry over the latter.
Or what if the Christian flag was placed in a position superior to the American?



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Bob Cornwall

posted November 13, 2009 at 9:47 am


Larry,
Yes! Yes! I don’t really care for the Christian flag, which appears to be a knock off of the US flag, but how often do we make sure that this flag bows to the national flag?



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Keith Cummings

posted November 13, 2009 at 9:49 am


I always feel uncomfortable when we honor our military during church services. We just did this last Sunday, in anticipation of Veteran’s Day. The military folks in the audience stood and we clapped for them. I don’t want disrespect them by not applauding, but I think the whole thing is inappropriate.
Why don’t we have our social workers stand and give them a round of applause? That would seem more in line with the scriptures…yet we never do that.
PS. My comment was not lost when I refreshed…not sure why.



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Nathan Parker

posted November 13, 2009 at 10:33 am


It’s a matter of what our primary allegiance is to; either a flag and the country for which it stands, or a King and the Kingdom for which he suffered and died.



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John W Frye

posted November 13, 2009 at 11:47 am


Right after 9/11 I was strongly exhorted to sing national anthems in the church service and display the USAmerican flag. I tried courteously to say no because I don’t believe the church is the place to mix two kingdoms. I was blasted as unAmerican and a communist. I was told that the USA is a Christian nation and favored by God. I reported that I am part Cherokee Indian and do not think our nation has acted Christianly at all toward my forebears. I reported Francis Schaeffer’s wisdom in the late 60s and early 70s to not display the American (any national)flag in the church. Schaeffer reasoned that if your nation goes ungodly, so goes the church that is identified with it. None of this mattered to my detractors and they left the church! I asked them if their national ties were a legitimate reason to break the ties we have in Christ, they never answered. That is nationalism at its worse.



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pds

posted November 13, 2009 at 11:47 am


Peeling Dragon Skin
If Jesus lived in Britain in 1938, would he have supported the policies of Neville Chamberlain? If Jesus were President of the USA, would he have supported foreign policies of using military power to stop the strong from oppressing the weak? eg stopping Germany in WWII?
As noted, “patriotism” and “nationalism” have various meanings and elements. I think we have to break those out to answer the questions raised.
If we strive to avoid the sin of “nationalism,” how do we avoid sinning in the other direction? Do we even have a good name for that? Is there a sin of “country hypercriticism”? Could that be related to judgmentalism (eg, my view of my country is more enlightened than the guy in the pew next to me)?



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Jeremy Berg

posted November 13, 2009 at 12:09 pm


FYI – I never lose my comments when I coptcha – which is often. Is it a browser thing? I use Safari.



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Patrick

posted November 13, 2009 at 12:17 pm


Scot nicely captures the critical distance we need to have to our own nationalism, whatever form it takes, but also the good things nationalism does.
It seems to me that some ‘anti-nationalist’ views dismiss nationalism per se as a dangerous evil responsible for bloodbaths, wars and ethnic cleansing. Yet many nationalisms can foster identity, unity, a sense of belonging, cultural renewal etc. Even after Babel, God still has a purpose for the nation of Israel and even the pagan nations. Eschatologically, the gospel is for the healing and NOT the eradication of the nations. Nationalism is like other forms of human culture (if a very powerful one) which can be used constructively or used destructively. I think it is a good thing to ‘love’ your nation but I think the Christian’s task is to exercise our prior citizenship of the Kingdom of God by being willing to stand against evil, injustice or idolatry in our own nation – even if we are accused of ‘treason’. Loyalty to Jesus trumps loyalty to the nation.



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Patrick

posted November 13, 2009 at 12:22 pm


# John 18
A courageous example of loyalty to Jesus over loyalty to the nation.



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Barb Murphy

posted November 13, 2009 at 1:50 pm


This is a timely discussion for me since last Sunday, I also had to see how my church honored Veterans Day. We are in a community where many people are connected to the military so the number who stood to be “thanked” was very large. Then, much to my dismay we sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic–I could not bring myself to sing this song. I know that if I voice my concerns I will hear again that it’s really no big deal and why am I so anti-military (which I’m not, having worked on the Navy base for 30 years). Our community has a very large Armed Forces Day celebration in the spring and I feel that it is proper for us as Christians to attend and show our patriotism there–even waving flags as the miltary marches by–however, I believe that we should definitely not bring this same kind of celebration into the church.



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pds

posted November 13, 2009 at 2:41 pm


Barb #23
Are you against the abolition of slavery? If not, why exactly do you not like the Battle Hymn of the Republic?
I don’t see singing that hymn as “pro-military.” Singing that hymn probably means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. (I have mixed feelings about it myself.)



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AHH

posted November 13, 2009 at 2:49 pm


Such a big issue for the U.S. evangelical church.
I remember not long after becoming a Christian, being at church near July 4 and thinking it strange to be singing patriotic songs. Then I got used to it. Then a few years later starting to think more about what it meant to follow Jesus, and such “worship” started to set off my idolatry alarm.
But this is so ingrained in U.S. culture, and has been for a long time. Do the Boy Scouts still have a “God and Country” award like they did when I was a Scout in the 70s? So often “God and Country” in the US are treated as being of equal importance, two equally foundational pillars, etc. So many churches have US flags up front, seeming to make a statement that their allegiance is equally shared between Caesar and Christ.
It does not help that much of the nation-idolatry when patriotism goes too far is tied up with the “culture wars”. I think of the late D. James Kennedy preaching his culture-war sermons with a big American flag as his backdrop in the sanctuary. Flag-waving nationalism (sometimes to the point of idolatry) just seems to be a part of the “package” one is expected to buy into if one is a conservative evangelical in the US. If I’m not willing to tie God and country closely together, I’m probably also a socialist evolutionist environmentalist non-Republican non-ierrantist liberal.
I do appreciate the point of PDS that being a Christian also does not mean we are supposed to be hyper-critical of the country where we live, as though our nation were worse than all others. But at least among US evangelical churches (different story in more liberal “mainline” churches), I think that error is outnumbered 100:1 by the “God and country” error.
By the way, I find that my text (and my name) tends to get lost when I use Internet Explorer, but not when I’m on my other computer using Firefox.



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Kate

posted November 13, 2009 at 2:55 pm


#14 What is the “Christian flag”?
Did Roman Christians display the Emperor’s statue?
I attend an international church in Africa so we are happily free of nationalist expression :)
PDS @ #19 “Is there a sin of “country hypercriticism”?” I think the British tend towards this sin, whatever it is called. No one flies the Union Jack except the National Front (right wing thugs), it is seen as very hyper-Nationalistic to do so and I never saw one in a church- everyone would think the pastor had become a fascist!
ps no problems with the captcha here, either. (Vista, IE)



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AHH

posted November 13, 2009 at 3:10 pm


Kate #26 asks about the “Christian flag”:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_flag
It is pretty common in US churches to display the Christian flag and the U.S. flag in the sanctuary, often on approximately equal footing (such as one at the front left of the sanctuary and one at the front right).



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Elliot

posted November 13, 2009 at 3:10 pm


Larry and Bob (14 and 15),
Looking up “Guidelines for display of the American flag” on the Internet, I found this quote:
“When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, the U.S. flag should hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the audience, and in the position of honor at the clergy?s or speaker?s right facing the audience. Any other flag so displayed should be placed on the left of the speaker or to the right of the audience.”
It seems to me that if the American flag needs to be in the position of highest prominence, then it doesn’t belong in a place of worship at all.



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pds

posted November 13, 2009 at 3:33 pm


AHH #25,
Good points. I haven’t sung a patriotic hymn in church since I left home at 18 (quite a while ago). Having lived in blue states most of my life, it is not a big issue in the churches I have been to.
I would like to believe that I have found the perfect balance. But how do I know that?
Ever since I asked the questions above (If we strive to avoid the sin of “nationalism,” how do we avoid sinning in the other direction? Do we even have a good name for that?), I have been pondering what to call it. Treason, unamerican, unpatriotic, sedition are too strong and offensive. How do we define the proper virtue of patriotism that includes (among other things) loyalty, sacrifice, service, bravery, justice, thankfulness. And how do we describe its lack?
It is pretty easy to bash nationalism in others. It is harder to self-examine and find the right balance for ourselves.



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Rick

posted November 13, 2009 at 3:41 pm


The 4 indications are good, although I am not totally convinced about #3. If the D of I and Consitution are not seen as superior, or even, to our faith, and if they are seen as a good bedrock on which the country was established, why is wanting to keep them as is an example of nationalism?



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jjoe

posted November 13, 2009 at 4:36 pm


When the constitution was written slavery was legal and women couldn’t vote. Among other cultural sins of the time. It’s designed to be changed and therefore cannot be eternal.
And who’s to say there’s not a better constitution out there? I think the idea that American does everything better than other nations is very closely tied to the idea that we’re favored by God.
In reality, though, that attitude keeps us in sin. Our way of managing health care, for example, is inferior to many other nations by any objective measure, but we cannot accept that wound to our ego.



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Rick

posted November 13, 2009 at 4:52 pm


jjoe-
Good point, but I was referring more to changing the Bill of Rights. I should have been clearer.
“I think the idea that American does everything better than other nations is very closely tied to the idea that we’re favored by God.”
Some may see it that way, but not all. Some actually think we have a great base.
“…that attitude keeps us in sin. Our way of managing health care, for example, is inferior to many other nations by any objective measure, but we cannot accept that wound to our ego.”
Many would disagree with you on that, and not from their egos.



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Bob Cornwall

posted November 13, 2009 at 6:28 pm


Elliot, I agree! The flags are present in my congregation, but at the back of the sanctuary. Looking from the front to back, the American flag is on the left, the so-called Christian flag is on the right. Whenever I’ve gotten in a discussion about placement, I’ve always said — hey what ever displays the Cross should have prominence over the national flag!



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Don Heatley

posted November 13, 2009 at 7:40 pm


Not a big fan of national flags in church. Jesus is bigger than any country. I am very thankful for our country but somehow, when compared to the gospel, nationalism can seem rather small.
As far as the principles of our founding documents being eternal truths, there is a certain irony there. Many who would claim some divine inspiration for them would hardly agree with the Enlightenment or Deist framework from which much of their content originated.



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jjoe

posted November 13, 2009 at 7:48 pm


Rick,
Likewise, excellent points. I guess what I’m getting at is not that our base isn’t great, but that it’s a man-made base, built on a philosophy of men.
I have no doubt the Bill of Rights was inspired by God. It has changed the world for the better. But it’s not perfect.
Looking at the second amendment, for example, it’s a good thing to have an armed populace from the standpoint of preventing tyranny. I suppose that’s a Godly goal, but on the other side of the coin the proliferation of firearms and resulting violence isn’t.
I live in a Southern city with a high rate of crime, and when I visited Montreal recently my odds of being murdered *decreased* by a factor of literally 5 or 10. That increase in the sanctity of life is an increase in holiness. Lower murder rates are holier murder rates and we aren’t going to get there by pumping even more firearms into the system.
We shouldn’t even get started on health care because I’m one of those radicals who equates lack of public health care to abortion. I shouldn’t have said “any objective measure” but in the measures I care about, like infant mortality, our ranking is just awful.
Blessings from a lib



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Ted M. Gossard

posted November 13, 2009 at 11:42 pm


Good post and comments.
I like the idea of a whole bunch of flags of nations, or none at all.
This sin of nationalism can creep in unwittingly to those of us who reject the typical approach. When we are so taken up with anything in regard to this nation, really right, left or center, so that it nearly consumes us, we may be placing our trust in something other than God.
Sure, the bottome may drop out of the economy, but to hear the debate go on, it all depends on what goes on in Washington, as if that’s the sovereign hub of existence on this planet, or at least in our world. But if our focus is on the New Jerusalem, surely we can have some constructive criticism along the way, and we should, but we won’t be placing our faith in the United States or our political party or ideal of it. And this ought to be plain to all as part of our witness in this world.



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Andrew Murray

posted November 14, 2009 at 2:23 am


My church also had a time in the worship service for veterans to stand and everyone clap for them. They then posted the colors and had everyone say the pledge of allegiance.
I think it is appropriate to thank the veterans. After all, it is because of them that we have the freedom to gather together for worship. They have all put a lot on the line for us, and I think it is appropriate to express gratitude, even in a worship service. So I clapped.
However, I was EXTREMELY uncomfortable when it came time to say the pledge. It just didn’t feel right to pledge allegiance to the flag in a worship service. I felt like we should be pledging allegiance to Jesus.
Now, I personally don’t feel that the two need to be mutually exclusive, but one is definitely superior to the other, and if a worship service (i.e. a gathering of the Body of Christ) isn’t an appropriate time to make that distinction, then what is? If anything, the distinction should be emphasized.



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Brian in NZ

posted November 15, 2009 at 1:31 pm


Try this question:
Are you a Christian who is a ? or
Are you a who is a Christian?
Also applies to to politics, work, sports etc. It is a statement about identity. I believe we should be Christians first and foremost, with nationality, political beliefs, career etc all taking a very secondary place.



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Brian in NZ

posted November 15, 2009 at 1:33 pm


Try this question:
Are you a Christian who is a (insert nation name)? or
Are you a (insert nation name) who is a Christian?
Also applies to to politics, work, sports etc. It is a statement about identity. I believe we should be Christians first and foremost, with nationality, political beliefs, career etc all taking a very secondary place.
(My first attempt to post this didn’t appear correctly because I used left and right chevrons! Who knew?)



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Ellen Haroutunian

posted November 15, 2009 at 8:22 pm


I really appreciate this paragraph: “But… we need to realize that our national measure has to be compared to the divine standard, not just against itself; the “other” is not a challenger to us but our neighbor; nationalism overreaches loyalty into idolatry; nationalism forgets the transnational nature of God’s church.” Especially the gift of the “other”, and the transnational nature of the church. But how often the “divine standard” has been understood as the white, Christian, male, mid to upper class ideal. :-(



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